By Mary Dawood Catlin
It happened again. We were sucked into another pay-for-vacations-forever presentation. The first time we were enticed by a free helicopter ride if we agreed to a “90-minute” presentation. This time we were offered a 3-night stay at a hotel and a $200 cash gift for “2-hours” of our time.
We had sworn off vacation ownership after the first 90-minute timeshare sales pitch turned into a 6-hour high pressure situation. And yet here we were accepting once again. Helicopter rides, free hotel stays, cash gifts. Is it worth it?
So, here’s what happened: The night before the presentation we were sent its location address which was 45 minutes away from the hotel where we were staying. That was the first red flag. Once at the resort where the presentation was held, we wondered why we weren’t booked in that very same exclusive resort. That was the second red flag.
We were then greeted by a welcoming salesman. He guided us to a balcony overlooking a water complex of pools and lazy rivers. He then asked us to tell him everything about us from where we come from to our most cherished hopes and dreams. We were sharing a great deal of private information with this salesman we had just met.
With the lingering memory of our first timeshare sales pitch, we were surprised at how much fun we were having the second time around. It was a friendly experience and the time went by very quickly.
When the two hours were up, my husband and I were ready to leave. The salesman, however, wasn’t close to being done. That’s when everything quickly soured. He was going to finish no matter what, and he wasn’t willing to tell us how much longer the presentation would take.
We weren’t willing to spend endless hours listening to this salesman’s spiel. When he realized we weren’t signing anything after what he assumed was a done deal, his demeanor changed. His polished veneer immediately dropped, he started antagonizing my husband, and he simply was not allowing us to leave.
He started using guilt tactics, he said he had hardly gotten the chance to know us after we shared our private information with him for two hours. He said, “I thought we were having a good time?” He told us we wasted his time and that he didn’t respect the fact that we wanted to leave.
Finally, he said something so egregious to my husband that we immediately pulled the plug. My husband remained calm and unfazed while I told the salesman that his presentation was officially over. Not wanting to lose any other prospective sales happening simultaneously, the manager stepped in and quickly signed us out. He apologized for what had happened, spoke with us a bit longer, and then we left.
The 2-hour presentation turned into three hours, which in the vacation ownership space-time continuum is a miraculously short timeframe. After we left, I wondered: If it’s this hard to leave a sales pitch from a reputable brand, how hard must it be to end these binding lifetime contracts?
Prospective customers are assured that these contracts aren’t in perpetuity and that the vacation “owner” can always resell her “ownership” or give it back to the company. The existence of a growing counter-industry of reputable law firms who help victims of timeshare scams, or of shady companies who capitalize on the desperation of people trapped in vacation ownership, indicates a different reality.
Timeshares, vacation clubs, all-inclusive clubs, fractional ownerships are all part of the vacation ownership industry whose goal is to convince people to pay increasing monthly fees for the rest of their lives in exchange for dream vacations in exclusive luxury resorts.
The “dream” has turned into a nightmare for many people who did not understand what they were signing, or who were worn down to the point of doing anything to get out of the sales pitch. This industry preys on vulnerable people who cannot afford what these companies are selling, nor do they have the resources to defend themselves against an industry with endless resources.
It is an 8.1 billion dollar industry – 10.5 billion according to the American Resort Development Association (ARDA) which is the trade association built by and for the companies who sell vacation ownership. According to Statista the average annual income of timeshare owners in the United States in 2014 was $83,429.
This industry employs a commission-based workforce trained in aggressive, deceptive sales tactics to get people to sign away their financial future in one afternoon. The salespeople who never seem to own any of the products they sell, use disingenuous words like “investment” and “ownership.” Vacation ownership is not an investment as it never appreciates, it is extremely hard if not impossible to resell, and the “owners” have no control over the product they “own” which is nothing tangible.
Which brings us to the question: Why, if we were brought there to buy time and space in idyllic resorts, weren’t we offered a stay at the resort where our presentation was held? When we asked the salesman, he told us it’s because the resort was fully booked.
As a prospective customer, you are asked to trust that these elusive resorts will be available when you need them to be, and that you can easily end iron-clad contracts when they make it impossible to leave presentations without resorting to psychological manipulation.
You are asked to trust that the timeshare points system is an “incredible” deal that needs to be signed and sealed immediately, when they are not transparent about the number of points needed to stay in these luxury resorts (50k? 100k? A million?), or the cost of maintenance fees which could very quickly amount to a second mortgage.
If it were a good product, this industry would not employ deceptive sales tactics and customers would be granted more than one afternoon to come to life altering decisions. They wouldn’t be pressured into signing contracts that trap them into infernal spirals of financial hardship.
Finally, are timeshare presentations worth it for the “free” gifts they offer? It depends on how much you value your time, how much abuse you’re willing to take, whether you can face a tremendous amount of pressure, and whether you have the strength to leave when you’ve fulfilled your time obligation.
You’ll be facing salespeople who see you as nothing more than a dollar sign. When you say no they will mistreat you for “wasting their time.” They don’t at all mind that they took your day to lure you into “ownerships” and “investments” that amount to a lifetime of financial entrapment. If you are not interested, the presentation will inevitably turn into an inescapably intense situation, or worse.
For those who have never experienced these presentations, consider yourselves lucky. For those who are curious to try, may you be fully aware that you will be entering a world where your time and human dignity are not valued, and where the word ‘no’ is construed as nothing more than a suggestion. Either way, may the force be with you.
*About the author: Mary Dawood Catlin is a Canadian writer, historian, pianist, and advocate for human rights and liberties. Her work has been published in various outlets and in the peer-reviewed volume Making Sense of Music. Studies in Musical Semiotics.
Source: This article was published by AIER